Lenovo recently celebrated the milestone of selling 60 million ThinkPad notebooks. That's a ThinkPad for every person in the United Kingdom, to put it in perspective. Moreover, the PC maker claims these things sell like electronic hotcakes, to the tune of 14 per minute. Those are iPad sort of rates. But Lenovo doesn't reach these types of numbers by selling outdated hardware spruced up with brushed aluminum, and clever marketing. The company targets tech-savvy business consumers and home users who want light, durable notebooks that offer extended battery life built with the latest technology.
The notebook we're reviewing today is an improvement over the original T410 we reviewed earlier this year. The latest iteration offers consumers a feature that gives it an important advantage over the majority of laptops on the market. The ThinkPad T410s is the first model from Lenovo to offer NVIDIA Optimus technology which provides users with seamless switching between discrete GPU performance and the power saving benefits associated with integrated graphics.
It features a 14 inch LED backlit screen with a native resolution of 1440 x 900, Intel Core i5 560M processor, NVIDIA NVS3100M graphics, 128GB Toshiba SSD, and a total weight under 4 lbs. Less than an inch thick, the T410s is one of the thinnest, lightest, and most advanced 14" notebooks we've ever tested. Without a doubt, the specs are great, but exactly how well does it perform? Keep reading to find out.
|Overall Design & Accessories|
Let's get the obvious out of the way. The T410s is super thin (0.83 inches) and remarkably lightweight (3.91 lbs). In fact, it's noticeably thinner and lighter than the T410 released in April. If you're looking for a truly mobile notebook that won't weigh you down, this ThinkPad is an ultra portable notebook worth consideration.
The T410s does nothing to draw attention. It's strictly business with minimal styling cues. While closed, we see a plain, matte black lid and a small ThinkPad logo on the bottom right corner. But besides the absence of style, the materials used to create the ThinkPad's shell offers scratch and finger print resistance like no other with a top-notch quality feel.
With the lid open, we find an extremely clean layout. Speakers are placed on both sides of the keyboard, while a large, textured touchpad is located below it. Like the lid, the palm rest and screen bezel won't show fingerprints easily.
Lenovo ThinPad's have a reputation for great keyboards and the T410s delivers. There's the traditional textured trackpad and the heralded "nub" in the middle of the keyboard for those that prefer it. The blue "Enter" key is there, and the Fn and Ctrl keys have been "reversed" in typical Lenovo fashion.
The optical drive is located on the right side of the notebook. On the left, we find a USB 2.0 port and audio jack. No USB 3.0 connections? That's too bad.
On the rear of the notebook, we find several I/O ports waiting patiently to be used. From left to right, we find a DC power jack, VGA port, RJ-45 ethernet jack, USB 2.0 port, USB/eSATA combo port, and a DisplayPort connection. It's worth noting here that Lenovo opts to omit the inclusion of an HDMI port, a relatively common connection for current laptops. It's an almost glaring omission these days actually, especially since, with NVIDIA's Optimus technology under the hood, this machine can offer solid multimedia capability over an HDMI output.
As with the T410, the T410s arrives with very little. You'll get the machine itself, an AC
power adapter and an AC power cord and some instruction guides. No extras are tossed in per se.
On the software front, Windows 7 Professional is installed. Very little bloatware is included on top of the stock install of Windows 7, which is appreciated. Lenovo's connection suite is in there to manage the wireless connections, and a simple overlay on the bottom taskbar is included, but otherwise you won't notice any extra software from random third party vendors that you were never interested in from the start.
|NVIDIA Optimus Technology|
NVIDIA's Optimus technology is enabled through a combination of custom hardware and software. What NVIDIA is calling the "Optimus Copy Engine" is integrated into all of their current 40nm GeForce 200M and 300M GPUs and upcoming Fermi-architecture based mobile products.
previous NVIDIA offerings that featured support for Hybrid SLI, which
also allowed an NVIDIA IGP to display the output from a discrete GPU,
elements of the GPU's 3D pipeline were used to copy frame buffer data to
the IGP. This caused the 3D engine to stall during DMA operations. With
the new Optimus Copy Engine, however, the 3D engines are not used and
don't stall during the copy process.
On the software side, a few things had to happen to enable Optimus. First and foremost, Windows 7's ability to work with multiple graphics drivers simultaneously was a necessity. Vista only allowed graphics drivers from a single vendor to be installed at any given time. NVIDIA also implemented a few features in their drivers for Optimus. In the slide on the left, you'll see an indicator for the Optimus Routing layer. NVIDIA hasn't disclosed exactly how the routing laying works, but the software essentially detects certain calls an enables the discrete GPU when necessary. In addition, NVIDIA has also implemented application profiles in their driver--similar to SLI profiles. When a application is launched, if its profile recommends the use of the discrete GPU, it is fired up and takes over. While we're on the subject, we should also note, that when the discrete GPU is not being used, it can be completely shut down to a no-power state.
NVIDIA has also implemented a new profile distribution system that will keep Optimus application profiles updated, without user intervention. Due to the fact that many notebook buyers are, shall we say, not so tech savvy, the likelihood that they'd update drivers regularly and keep the profile list up to date was slim. With that in mind, NVIDIA has put mechanisms in place to update Optimus application profiles in the background, much like anti-virus vendors update definitions. Users can also manually add applications to the list or enable the GPU with a simple right click of the shortcut. A context menu gives users the ability to run a particular application using the discrete GPU if they so choose.
|PCMark & 3DMark Testing|
As we normally do, we kicked off our gauntlet of benchmarks with Futuremark's unforgiving PCMark Vantage benchmark and the less stringent 3DMark06 suite. At some point we'll likely drop the latter, but in the meantime, it gives us a quick point of reference as to how the T410s stacks up against previous notebooks we've had in our labs.
The notebook's 1440 x 900 native resolution did not meet the minimum required by 3DMark Vantage. So we connected an external monitor to run the DX10 benchmark in order to get some performance numbers.
The T410s jumped ahead of the competition in this benchmark. The wide performance gap is largely due to the 128GB SSD found on the Lenovo notebook, but the 2.66GHz Core i5 processor is definitely pulling its weight as well.
In 3DMark06, the T410s scored 3755 3DMarks, and a CPU score of 3069. That was enough to edge out both the Asus U43F (Core i5 450M 2.4GHz) and Dell XPS 14 (Core i5 460M 2.53GHz).
With a score of P1121 3DMarks, the T410s has nothing to brag about. Of course, this is a business class notebook so we don't expect mind blowing gaming numbers. On the next page, let's see how well the T410s handles real gaming titles.
|SiSoft SANDRA & Cinebench|
What's most impressive here is how well the Core i5 performs compared to the competition. On the other hand, the NVS3100M can't keep up in OpenGL rendering tasks.
|Gaming & Battery Life|
Like its predecessor, HAWX 2 isn't the most graphically challenging game you can run when using its low-quality settings. That's good news for the T410s, as we saw smooth game play all the way up to 4x AA.
We saw an average frame rate of 31 FPS in Dirt 2, with ultra low settings and no anit-aliasing. It didn't run completely smooth at all times, but was playable for the most part.
In STALKER, the T410s recorded average frame rates of 23 FPS with minimum settings and no AA. Performance takes a serious hit when turning up AA so we recommend going without it.
To test all battery life claims, we use the notebook benchmark tool Battery Eater Pro running in Classic mode and record the time it takes for the laptop to run out of power and shut down.
With Battery Eater Pro running, it took 108 minutes for the T401s to use up a full charge. The battery life we experienced was on par with Dell's XPS 14, which sports a Core i5 460M and NVIDIA Optimus infused graphics. Note that this benchmark puts a continuous load on the graphics card (the Intel IGP in this case), as well as the CPU so we consider this result as a "worst case" result. With a lighter workload combined with idle time periods, the T410s will keep its charge much longer due to the advantages offered by Optimus technology.
|Performance Summary and Conclusion|
Performance Summary: Across the board, we were satisfied with the performance of Lenovo's T410s. It offers a slightly faster Core i5 processor than the other 14" notebooks we've recently looked at. As such, its benchmark scores reflect that advantage. The inclusion of a 128GB solid state drive pays major dividends in the PCMark Vantage test, where the T410s performed extremely well.
So with everything taken into consideration, what do we think of the T410s? We think it offers adequate performance for business users by employing an Intel Core i5 processor, 4GB of memory, and a snappy 128GB Toshiba SSD. The NVIDIA NVS3100M is powerful enough to run multi-display setups, while delivering a stable environment for business applications. And while it won't run COD Black Ops with image quality settings cranked up, the T410s can handle some light gaming at 1440 x 900 resolution as well. Just use low settings and keep anti-aliasing turned off.
The Achilles heel of this notebook is the short up time provided by its 6-cell battery. If you take your work on the road often, an hour and a half of juice may not be enough time to get the job done. Just keep in mind that the battery life estimate we recorded should be considered the worst case scenario. We consider it an understandable trade off for an ultra portable notebook with these specs. The real question is if it's a shortcoming you're willing to deal with. With that said, if you're in the market for a light, thin, and rugged notebook specifically designed for business users, the Lenovo Thinkpad T410s is definitely worth checking out.